A Sassy, a Nova, and the circle of life

Sassy is her name. She’s a white Volvo. New enough to have the nerve to have power windows and a Blaupunkt stereo, but certainly vintage enough to have window motors that have gone on strike and an aircon system that recently quit in Malaysia’s unrelenting heat. And we’re riding in Sassy. The wind is whipping in through one of the 3 operable windows while the aircon blows tepid air.  3 kids under the age of six occupy the back seat in an array of forward and rear-facing seats. We’re hollering and laughing as we speed down KL’s highways and byways. We’re laughing because the wind is currently flinging our hair into innumerable configurations and hollering because the howl of the wind is deafening.

Heidi asked before I even boarded the vintage express, “Are you sure you want to ride in Sassy? The aircon has quit.” I assured her it would be my pleasure. Heidi, this is the point where I tell you why.

The location is Añasco, Puerto Rico circa 1987. My parents (like Danny, Heidi’s hubby) have never believed in new cars. If a car isn’t at least 10 years old it hasn’t started to live, so why waste the money? Their belief system was taken a bit to the extreme when the 1970 Chevy Nova became their car of choice. We never named her, oddly enough (I don’t think people were as attached to their things back then), but if I were to give her a name today it would be something super unoriginal like the Orange Machine, or Sunkist. Yes, she was very orange. An oft repeated urban myth of marketing failure, the Chevy Nova is rumored to not have sold well in Latin countries like Mexico and Venezuela because “no va” means “doesn’t go.” I was surprised to discover that this urban myth is not true and explains why so many Novas circulated Puerto Rico at this time. But I digress.

It was almost cliché  that she had a vinyl, perforated, tan interior that grafted itself to any exposed skin in Puerto Rico’s humid, sun pelting heat. She had no aircon, unless of you course you wanted to count the rusted out floorboards, long ago stripped of carpeting, that bore holes the size of baseballs and generated some air flow. Those holes were legendary. Back when littering wasn’t uncool, that’s where we would dispose our bits of trash and whip our heads around to see it become a dot on  the asphalt horizon. It also served us well when a friend fell sick shortly after a Ruben DJ concert. He had to vomit so my mom instructed him to vomit in one of the holes. Said holes were also responsible for us having to raise our feet when crossing over one of Puerto Rico’s many flooded bridges during the rainy season. “Kids, pick up your feet,” was said many, many times in the Nova.

She was a two door which meant the only way the people in the back were going to be able to breathe oxygen was to scoot all the way forward in their seat and squeeze their head between the headrest of the front seat and the narrowed triangle end of the front window. Obviously, that left absolutely no chance one would be wearing a seat belt while riding in the back. Oh yeah, that’s right, it didn’t have seat belts ! I think they were optional that year of the Nova. To be fair my dad installed some he rescued from a junk yard after we were pulled over by a well-meaning police officer who couldn’t believe that people still allowed their kids to ride around unbelted.

There was always a rag kept in the car for when it rained. The windshield leaked like a sieve and fogged up to blinding, so it was always someone’s task to be the interior windshield wiper.

That car, nonetheless, was famous. I was never embarrassed by that car because my mom used it to take us EVERYWHERE – Us AND all of our friends. She never used it’s hoopty status as an excuse to say we couldn’t go somewhere because it was raining or too hot. Mind you, she was the lone adult who schlepped 6 kids to a Ruben DJ concert (“La Escuela” and “El Alcohol” were his top hits); something most other parents weren’t even remotely interested in doing (Yes, that’s 3 people in the front and 4 in the back).Till this day if you ask anyone that knew the Orange Machine you will see their eyes light up and a trip down memory lane will follow. A trip filled with a ton of heartfelt laughter.

Fast forward to modern day and I find myself doing market research on luxury mini vans. Seven seaters just won’t do. I think I need 9 seats plus. And I think to myself how far I’ve come. From the Nova to now. But then I wonder, how do I give my kids those same kind of memories? The memories that force you to face your modern day luxuries and be ever thankful for them.  How do I help them to understand that nice things aren’t a right? That they are a privilege that SOMETIMES accompany hard work and dedication. And I think that maybe like Heidi and Danny I should drive around a Sassy. A car that when they do upgrade will cause their kids to appreciate the cool breeze of aircon and the wonder of functioning power windows. There may be less laughter, though, because who laughs at a perfectly operational car?

I must admit that It’s pretty poetic the current car I drive, though. What’s it called? Wait for it…A Toyota “Innova.” Phonetically in Spanish it means, “And, it doesn’t go!” And the circle of life continues.

 

 

Daiso A.K.A. The greatest shop in the world

This post is dedicated to my friend Heidi who upon leaving Daiso one day texted me, “Tell me you’re doing a Daiso post on your blog?’ Heidi, this one is for you!

Daiso. Oh Daiso. I’ve been singing your praises since the first day I spent 5RM in your shop. Ha! As if i’ve ever left my happiest place on earth with only purchasing one thing. What’s Daiso you ask? Oh, it’s like a dollar store BUT 100% BETTER!

Daiso is a Japanese one price shop that I (and Heidi) refer to as simply the “Japanese Solutions Store.” Depending on what currency you are utilizing the price of everything in the store is 5RM or about $1.55. For now, as there is a black hole of crafting shops in KL, this is the place where I get crafting supplies for school, darning needles for quilting projects, supplies to wrap gifts, plastic storage, etc. etc. etc. My most recent fab purchase was microfiber workout-sized towels. $1.55 for a microfiber workout towel? I would say that’s quite a bargain!

And as much as we ladies love it, it’s pretty safe to say nearly every guy I know hates it! Steve loathes Daiso. As a financier he’s quick to point out their brilliant business model, that I choose to ignore. Not everything in Daiso is really worth 5RM. He says it’s like Costco to Americans. You go in to buy detergent but come out with an electric dog washer. Who cares if you don’t own a dog. You may some day! That being said, you know what he loathes more? When I show up with a truly fantastic Daiso find that makes him go, “Well, how did we every get on without this brilliant little life solution?” Seriously, he hates it.

Enough with words. Let me show you the place where the exacting Japanese affinity for order and quality meets cheap!

I grin ear to ear every time I see this sign!

I grin ear to ear every time I see this sign!

It's the presentation that matters.

It’s the presentation that matters.

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What kind do you prefer? Chopsticks galore!

What kind do you prefer? Chopsticks galore!

The world's tiniest sauce bottles! A must for any bento box.

The world’s tiniest sauce bottles! A must for any bento box.

As well as divider papers. Can't have those bento box items touching and sticking now can we?

As well as divider papers. Can’t have those bento box items touching and sticking, now can we?

How many kinds of tea strainers could you possibly need. Many. I repeat. Many!

How many kinds of tea strainers could you possibly need. Many. I repeat. Many!

Just in case you're opening your own shop and need some cheap signage.

Just in case you’re opening your own restaurant shop and need some cheap signage.

Origami for days

Origami for days

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Pre-cut felt. I think I have every color.

Pre-cut felt. I think I have every color.

5RM yarn bundles

5RM yarn bundles

No self-respecting Japanese shop would lack a Hello Kitty section

No self-respecting Japanese shop would lack a Hello Kitty section

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How would you like your gift wrapped?

How would you like your gift wrapped?

Where were you when I was using sharpies and rulers on a white board to track results?

Where were you when I was using sharpies and rulers on a white board to track results?

This section of teeny tiny zip lock bags in all sizes paralyzes me. I think I need one of each.

This section of teeny tiny zip lock bags in all sizes paralyzes me. I think I need one of each.

 

When you're feeling like having a double eyelid day.

When you’re feeling like having a double eyelid day.

And of course you've got options!

And of course you’ve got options!

Pump bottles. Again, spoilt for choice!

Pump bottles. Again, spoilt for choice!

And here some people used balled up tissues!

And here some people used balled up tissues!

Oh, hello. You're new. A DIY parent could certainly make their own block set with these bad boys!

Oh, hello. You’re new. A DIY parent could certainly make their own block set with these bad boys!

Have you seen cuter zip ties?

Have you seen cuter zip ties?

I'm starting to think the Japanese sweat a lot. Lucky for those of us who live and work in SouthEast Asia.

I’m starting to think the Japanese sweat a lot. Lucky for those of us who live and work in SouthEast Asia.

These elephant watering cans have brought our boys hours of entertainment at the pool. Obviously I already own them.

These elephant watering cans have brought our boys hours of entertainment at the pool. Obviously I already own them.

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When those pesky little furniture pads just won't cut it.

When those pesky little furniture pads just won’t cut it.

For when the formal table leg chair covers are just overkill. Enter the casual collection.

For when the formal table leg chair covers are just overkill. Enter the casual collection.

Hooks are so handy when organizing kids closets and play areas! And of course they come in every size imaginable.

Hooks are so handy when organizing kids closets and play areas! And of course they come in every size imaginable.

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is simply melamine. So Daiso of course offers them in every size imaginable. For when just a tiny square will do.

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is simply melamine. So Daiso of course offers them in every size imaginable. For when just a tiny square will do.

I mean seriously. How else can you deep clean a window frame during Spring cleaning?

I mean seriously. How else can you deep clean a window frame during Spring cleaning?

Sticky rolls. A size roll for every sized job!

Sticky rolls. A size roll for every sized job!

Cotton buds. Who needs this much variety?

Cotton buds. Who needs this much variety?

Them lashes. Gotta get them 5RM falsies!

Them lashes. Gotta get them 5RM falsies!

This is a girl rising…

I am struggling. No! I am BATTLING. Battling to find my way. Find my way into the impoverished communities that are drawing my heart. Drawing my heart to see, to REALLY see who they are. See who they are so that I may understand how to best serve them and how to best stand WITH them. With them. Not apart from them.

As I habitually (you can say out of self-preservation) draw my circle of life and existence to exclude the suffering, I find that circle lacking. Lacking because my faith is nothing without works. Works to clothe the naked. Works to feed the poor. Works to help the sick. The orphans. The widowed. My holy scriptures demand that I do them. Not because my works will be what saves me, but because works and good deeds are a natural outpouring of someone who has been saved. Saved when they were clearly undeserving. Saved by grace. No one fights more to save others than those who themselves have been saved. You can say they have been freed. Freed from poverty, from slavery, from the drudgery of a life without purpose.

I am struggling because I want to draw that circle. I want my circle to be free of pain, of illness, of suffering. Can I be so cavalier to draw said circle now because I and mine are currently not ill, not poor, not suffering? And I wonder. Wonder what will that do to my children. If I craft this world for them that never exposes them? It’s not a real circle is it? Pain and suffering will come no matter how hard we try so to attempt to exclude it from our lives, and no one carries the burden more nimbly than those already carrying it on a daily basis. Can we not learn from them? We’re so convinced there is so much they must learn from us.

I was on the verge of surrender. Trying to make pathways into a community where I didn’t speak the language. Charged with communicating complex ideas without my most sharpened of tools – My words. I confessed to my fellow volunteers that I didn’t see how I could make a real difference being mute. Relying on others to translate my heart’s message. My heart’s burden for my youth. Youth who simply want a breath of the winds of change. Youth with empty tummies and eyes full of injustices. But all along God has been speaking to me. I hear Him saying. Show up and shut up. SHOW UP. I’ve always had a way with words but amongst my youth I am silent. Only able to communicate with my touch. With my presence. Understanding now there must be something I am to learn from them.

Only God knows what the natural extension of this burden on my heart will produce. This struggle that addles my mind day in and day out and never leaves me quite alone. For now, though, He is saying. Don’t start then quit. Quitting is no longer who you are. COMMIT, PERSIST and keep SHOWING UP.

See below for a video on compassion and kinship that has renewed my fervor for working with those on the margins.

 

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:14-17

Take it to the streets!

After living nearly five years in Malaysia Steve and I have safely concluded that the closer you get to the streets, the better the food gets. You can be fancy and opt for a highfaluting hotel restaurant experience and walk out with that “Meh” feeling and feeling like your pockets were assaulted, or you can rub elbows with rodents and other fine critters of the gutter and walk away highly satisfied having fed three people for all of 15RM (about $4.50). Tonight’s dinner was no exception.

My homeschooling friends (I.e. nearly Sister Wives) wanted to take me out for my birthday but allowed me to pick the location. Keeping it classy, the way I always like to do, I opted for one of my favorite haunts, the parking lot of the Honda dealership on Jalan Imbi (Jalan is Malay for road). At night the empty parking lot turns into a ramshackle hawker center where culinary smells mix with the exhaust of diesel-fueled generators. It’s pretty awesome.

Julie was no stranger to this mini culinary festival but Heidi hadn’t yet been (though she is no novice adventure eater). The tables are plastic folding tables that can barely sustain the weight of a napkin and the seating is plastic as well, but the Char Kuey Tow (Penang style fried noodles) here is delightful. My usual guy wasn’t there tonight but since we walked the distance from our apartment to Imbi, I wasn’t going to go away hungry. I settled for his competitor. In my opinion there are three foods that even when bad aren’t THAT bad: char kuey teow, nasi lemak and pizza. This char kuey tow was yum and I finally tried veggie yong tau foo at Julie’s urging. Yong tau food is veggies stuffed with a fish and pork cake and served with a side of sweet soya and chili sauce. Honestly, you really can’t go wrong with that either.

See below for some pics of our culinary adventure…Street style.

The people gotta eat!

The people gotta eat!

The char kuey tow. Katie, Cindy, Mo and Jess, you know what I'm talking about here!

The char kuey tow. Katie, Cindy, Mo and Jess, you know what I’m talking about here!

How could I ever leave this place? My tastebuds no longer do boring!

How could I ever leave this place? My tastebuds no longer do boring!

Chili pepper and eggplant yong tau foo.

Chili pepper and eggplant yong tau foo.

Best takeaway beverage container in the history of ever! Plus you just strap the string around your wrist and you can basically do anything with your beverage. Like drive a motorbike!

Best takeaway beverage container in the history of ever! Plus you just strap the string around your wrist and you can basically do anything with your beverage. Like drive a motorbike!

Fresh juice of any kind.

Fresh juice of any kind.

Still working for a living. Melts my heart.

Still working for a living. Melts my heart.

I wasn't kidding. It's a parking lot. For the Honda dealership.

I wasn’t kidding. It’s a parking lot. For the Honda dealership.

The competition's kuey teow

The competition’s kuey teow

Refreshing fresh young coconut

Refreshing fresh young coconut

TWG…No, I’m not shorthand texting

It's raining. It's pouring. Bring on the tea!

When it’s raining in the afternoon, and by the way these days it rains every afternoon, I find myself hankering after a cuppa hot steaming tea. I like them all, English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Herbal, Chai, Vanilla, etc. etc. Today was one such day and I found stashed in the cupboards a most uncommon sight – A tasting box of TWG tea bags. Being that I’m too tight to actually splurge for my favorite tea brand (I consider TWG an indulgence) I was delighted to find said stash. I didn’t even want to ask how it got there. I simply tucked in.

In my humble opinion TWG makes the best Chamomile tea. You can see the chamomile flowers through the cotton bag once it is wet – Big huge flowers infusing my tea with lovely calming goodness. The sachets are hand-sewn cotton bags and I’m sure that inflates the price a bit. Simply said, TWG is fancy tea!

TWG is a Singaporean tea brand and it stands for The Wellness Group. Their business model has flourished beyond just teas as they now have cafes where you can enjoy quite good gastronomic fare. If you are in the  U.S. apparently Dean and Deluca’s stock the goodness, so if you like tea be sure to check it out.

English Brekkie? Yes, please. French Earl Grey? Oooh Fancy! Chamomile? Why thank you!

English Brekkie? Yes, please. French Earl Grey? Oooh Fancy! Chamomile? Why thank you!

They just want to make sure you get it right. No need to waste all that good tea!

Instructions boldly featured on the box. They just want to make sure you get it right. No need to waste all that good tea!

Hand-sewn cotton tea bags

Hand-sewn cotton tea bags

Electric kettle. Check!

Electric kettle. Check!

By the way, in the essence of keeping it real (what this blog is supposed to be about), I will confess that this cup of tea ended up dumped on the dinner table. Yep, I sat down with my cup to join the boys for their dinner and in the process of reaching to help R I knocked over my cup. Tea went flying. I nearly burnt R with hot expensive herbal water. Boooooo! How anticlimactic.

A racket…On the court

If you had told me a year ago that I would be taking tennis lessons and loving it I would have said, “Poppycock!”

And yet here I am. Taking tennis lessons…AND loving it. It’s great exercise and whenever you have any pent up aggression you can take it out on those poor little furry yellow balls.

My friend Julie convinced me to join her and I was pleased to find that our tennis coach, Mr. Anthony, is just the cutest most relaxed instructor. He never hollers, he’s constantly telling us not to think, he never makes a big deal out of any mistake, and whenever we do something pretty impressive he kowtows in honor.

The best part is he’s teaching the sort of tennis that you can play your entire life. No lunging and no pivoting, just running to the ball, putting your racket down and following through. It’s nearly zen and Julie and I aren’t too shabby at it. Playing and learning with a friend is so much fun and we are grateful to have such an indulgent opportunity.

Our lessons take place at Kelab  Darul Ehsan, known as KDE. It’s an older club but it serves our needs just fine. Watch out amateur circuit. We’re coming!

The entrance of KDE

The entrance of KDE

Our indoor court

Our indoor court

My doubles partner. Watch out amateur tennis circuit. We're coming for you!

My doubles partner. Watch out amateur tennis circuit. We’re coming for you!

Excited to play after a 6 week break

Excited to play after a 6 week break

The sight of tennis balls now make me smile. Who would've thought?

The sight of tennis balls now make me smile. Who would’ve thought?

Our lovely coach Mr. Anthony!

Our lovely coach Mr. Anthony!

After an hour of play. Not so playful any more.

After an hour of play. Not so playful any more.

Of Dumplings and Rice and Din Tai Fung

The site of this always makes my entire family smile.

To those of you who have experienced Din Tai Fung and do not live within 200 miles of one, I apologize in advance (I say 200 miles because I know very well that most people would drive 200+ miles at least once a year to get the DTF fix). I would mail you some if I could. I really would because I get your longing. I get it so much that since living in Taiwan in 2006/07, we have set a standard for countries where we will live – There must be a Din Tai Fung.

Din Tai Fung is not uniquely Malaysian. It’s Taiwanese. It’s L and R’s favorite restaurant by far and as most know, from the time the food arrives on the table until the table is cleared is about a solid 15 min of desperation. Chopsticks fly around the table at lightning speed as one inhales a dumpling from the middle of the table, a mouthful of green beans from the opposite end, a spoonful of perfect fried rice from the communal plate that by a pure stroke of luck was set in front of you by one of the food delivery aunties. Xie to the Xie auntie. You knew what you were doing when you came to my table! You don’t ask anyone to pass you anything. You would never be so foolish. The food may disappear by the time it reaches you otherwise!

What makes the food so special? I have no clue. I seriously don’t, though I assume it may be crack…Or MSG. The dumplings are stuffed with juicy pork filling that oozes soup at first bite. Draped with impossibly thin strips of ginger that have been bathing in a pool of black vinegar, these little pockets of love make my children lose the plot if they are not ladled onto their plates fast enough.

My eldest has taken to special ordering the pork buns and my youngest is a huge fan of the strips of ginger. Before the food arrives you will find him demanding one strip after another that he gingerly chews on until the food makes its appearance.

Here are some photos as I’m feeling particularly cruel today.

The site of this always makes my entire family smile.

The site of this always makes my entire family smile.

The dumpling kitchen. Where the magic happens.

The dumpling kitchen. Where the magic happens.

Oh here there pure steamed goodness. Called Xia Long Bao, these are a Shanghainese specialty.

Oh hey there you pure steamed goodness. Called Xia Long Bao, these are a Shanghainese specialty.

I told you I'm feeling cruel. Can't you just savor the flavor?

I told you I’m feeling cruel. Can’t you just savor the flavor?

These xiao long bao have a spicy kick.

These xiao long bao have a spicy kick.

I think the black vinegar is what I'm really fond of at this place. I would put it in my cornflakes if allowed.

I think the black vinegar is what I’m really fond of at this place. I would put it in my cornflakes if allowed.

Drenching the sliced ginger in black vinegar goodness.

Drenching the sliced ginger in black vinegar goodness.

Fried rice with pork chop.

Fried rice with pork chop.

L's new favorite. The pork bun.

L’s new favorite. The pork bun.

There was a period of time where DTF couldn't find a quality supplier of green beans. A mini riot happened every time a customer was told they didn't yet have the green beans for sale.

There was a period of time when DTF couldn’t find a quality supplier of green beans. A mini riot happened every time a customer was told they didn’t yet have the green beans for sale.